The 5 principles applicable to the rational partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A:
If we are to make any headway at all in the eventual decipherment of Minoan Linear A, there are certain principles which should be strictly applied. There are 5 of them:
1. (The so-called negative factor). Do not attempt to correlate the Minoan language with any other ancient language except for the Linear B syllabary and indirect derivation from Mycenaean Greek terms (2. below).
2. Basing our technique on that of the French philologist, Jean-François Champellion, who deciphered the Rossetta Stone in 1822, cross-correlate words in the Minoan Linear A syllabary with parallel words in the Linear B syllabary on strikingly similar tablets in Mycenaean Greek, squarely taking into account the meanings of such words in the latter script and their potential adaptation to vocabulary in a very similar context on Minoan Linear A tablets.
3. Take direct cues from parallel ideograms on reasonably similar Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B tablets.
4. Turn to reliable archaeological evidence where this is available and finally;
5. (the most important principle of all). It is critical to understand that Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B both dealt with inventories and the process of inventorying livestock, crops, military matters and commodities such as vessels and pottery and textiles.
1. The attempt to correlate Minoan with known ancient language (negative principle or factor):
All too many past researchers and philologists attempting to decipher Minoan Linear A have made the assumption that they had first to determine what class of language it must or may have belonged to before they even began to attempt decipherment. This is, as we shall see, a false premise, a non starter, a dead end.
The very first of these researchers to make such an assumption was none other than Sir Arthur Evans himself, though he could hardly be blamed for doing so, being as he was at the very frontier of the science of archaeology at the outset of the twentieth century, up until the First World War when he had to suspend archaeological work at Knossos (1900-1914). I made this clear in my article, “An Archaeologist’ s Translation of Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris)”, in Vol. 10 (2014) in the prestigious international journal, Archaeology and Science (Belgrade) ISSN 1452-7448, in which I emphasized and I quote from Evans:
It would seem, therefore, unlikely that the language of the Cretan scripts was any kind of Greek, and probable that it was related to the early language or languages of Western Anatolia – associated, that is, with the archaeological 'cultures’ of Alaja Hüyük I ('proto-hattic’) and of Hissarlik II and Yortan ('Luvian’)...”, and a little further, “Though many of the sign-groups are compounded from distinct elements, usually of two syllables each, there is little trace of an organized system of grammatical suffixes, as in Greek. At most, a few signs are notably frequent as terminals... (italics mine) and this in spite of its great antiquity, given that it preceded the earliest known written Greek, The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer by at least 600 years! It was a perfectly reasonable and plausible assumption, in view of the then understandable utter lack of evidence to the contrary.
Returning to my own analysis:
Besides, there were no extant tablets in either Minoan Linear A or Linear B with parallel text in another known ancient language, as had conveniently been the case with the Rosetta Stone, which would have gone a long way to aiming for a convincing decipherment of at least the latter script. Yet Evans was nagged by doubts lurking just below the surface of his propositions. (pp. 137-138)
So Evans was vacillating between the assumption that the Minoan language may have been related either to Luvian or Hittite (a brilliant assumption for his day and age) and that it was an ancestral form of proto-Greek. Both assumptions were wrong, but if only he had known that Linear B was alternatively the actual version of a very ancient East Greek dialect, namely, Mycenaean Greek, how different would the history of the decipherment of Linear B at least have been.
To complicate matters, Michael Ventris himself, following in the footsteps of Evans, began by making the same assumption, only this time correlating (italics mine) Linear B with Etruscan, stubbornly sticking with this assumption for almost 2 years before Linear B literally threw in his face the ineluctable conclusion that the script was indicative of Mycenaean Greek (June 1952).
My point is and here I must be emphatic. It is a total waste of time trying to pigeon-hole the lost Minoan language in any class of language, whether Indo-European or not. It will get us absolutely nowhere. So I have concluded (much to my own relief and with positive practical consequences) that it does not matter one jot what class of language Minoan belongs to, and that it serves us best simply to jump into the deep waters without further ado, and to attempt to decipher it on its own terms, i.e. internally.
2. Cross-correlation between the Minoan language and the Mycenaean syllabary:
Notice that in 1. above I italicized the word correlating. This is no accident at all. It is only by the process of cross-correlation with a known language that we can even begin to decipher an unknown one. And of course, the known language with which the Minoan language must be cross-correlated is none other than Mycenaean in Linear B, if not for any reason other than that Linear B uses basically the same syllabary as its predecessor, with only a modicum of changes required by the latter to represent Mycenaean Greek, more or less accurately. This assumption or principle, if you like, is squarely based on the approach used by the renowned French philologist, Jean-François Champellion, who finally deciphered in 1822, 23 years after it was discovered in Egypt in 1799.
How did he do it? He made the brilliant assumption that the stone, on which was inscribed the identical text in Demotic and ancient Greek, must have the exact same text in Egyptian hieroglyphics on it. And of course, he was right on the money. Here is were the principle of cross-correlation comes charging to the fore. If a given text in an unknown ancient text is on the same tablet as at least one other known language (and in this case two), a truly observant and meticulous philologist cannot but help to draw the ineluctable conclusion that the text of the unknown language must be identical to that of the known. Bingo!
But I hear you protest, there are no media upon which the identical text is inscribed where Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B are concerned. The medium on which texts in both Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B are inscribed is the clay tablet. While it is indisputably true that there exist no tablets on which the identical text is inscribed in Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, upon close examination, we discover to our amazement that there is at least one tablet in Minoan Linear A which is potentially very close to another in Mycenaean Linear B, and that tablet is none other than Linear A HT 31 from Haghia Triada, on which the text, at least to a highly observant philologist, would appear to be very close to a text on a particular Linear B tablet. And that tablet, we discover to our amazement, is none other than Pylos tablet TA Py 631-1952 (Ventris). Armed with this assumption, I forged right ahead and made a direct comparison between the two. And what did I discover? Both tablets mention (almost) the very same types of vessels in at least 4 instances. Armed with this information, I simply went ahead and found, this time not to my amazement or even surprise, that I was – at least tentatively – correct.
In the case of at least two words on both tablets, as it turned out, I was right on the money. These are (a) puko = tripod on HT 31 and tiripode = tripod on Py TA 631-1952 (Ventris). This was the very first word I ever managed to decipher correctly in Minoan Linear A. My translation, as it turns out, is without a shadow of a doubt, correct. My excitement mounted. (b) The second is supa3ra or supaira on HT 31, which would appear to be almost if not the exact equivalent of dipa mewiyo = a small(er) cup on Py TA 631-1952 (Ventris), but without the handles on the latter. And as it turns out, I was again either close to the mark or right on it. Refer to our previous posts on the decipherment of these two words, and you can see for yourselves exactly how I drew these startling conclusions.
Another Linear B tablet which is a goldmine of Mycenaean vocabulary from which certain Minoan words may be indirectly extrapolated is Pylos tablet TA Py Un 718 L.
By extrapolation of Minoan Linear A terms from their Mycenaean Linear B equivalents, I certainly do not mean that the former can be directly divined from the latter, since that is impossible, given that Mycenaean Greek is a known language whereas Minoan Linear A is unknown. What I mean is simply this: there is a good chance that a word which appears on a Minoan Linear A tablet which shares (almost) identical ideograms and relatively similar placement of (quasi-)identical text with its reasonably similar Mycenaean counterpart may share (approximately) the same meaning as its Mycenaean Greek counterpart. The clincher here is context. If the (quasi-)identical ideograms on both the Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B tablets appear strikingly alike, then we may very well have something substantial to go on. Pylos tablet TA Py Un 718 L is as close to an ideal candidate as there comes for such cross-correlation with tablets with similar text on one or more Minoan Linear A tablets.
3. Parallel ideograms on Linear A and Linear B tablets:
The presence of apparently (very) similar ideograms for vessels on both of the aforementioned tablets only serves to confirm, at least tentatively for most of the words on vessels I have attempted to decipher, and conclusively for the two words above, that I am (hopefully) well on my way to a clear start at deciphering at deciphering a small subset of Minoan Linear A. For lack of space, I cannot give details this post, which is already long enough, but once again, previous posts reveal in much more detail this principle on which my decipherments are founded, and the methodology behind it which lends further credence my translations.
4. Archaeological evidence lends yet further credence to my decipherments of 4 of the largest vessel types on HT 31, namely, karopa3 or karopai, nere, qapai & tetu. The problem here is, which one of the largest is the largest of them all, being approximately equivalent to the Greek pithos? I cannot tell from the tablet. However, since my initial stab at decipherment, I have tentatively concluded that Minoan Linear A words terminating in the ultimate U are masculine singular for the very largest in their class. Hence, it would appear at least that tetu is the most likely candidate for the equivalent to the ancient Greek pithos. I cannot as yet determine with any degree of certainty that this is so, but it is at least a start.
5. (the most important principle of all). It is critical to understand that Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B both dealt with inventories and the process of inventorying livestock, crops, military matters and commodities such as vessels and pottery and textiles. Based on this assumption, it only makes sense that a particular inventory on a Mycenaean Linear B tablet which appears very close to a similar one on a Minoan Linear A tablet (Cf. Linear B Pylos tablet TA Py 641-1952 (Ventris) and its strikingly similar counterpart Linear A tablet Haghia Triada HT 31) is quite likely to bear some fruit in at least a partial decipherment of the latter. And this proves to be the case, as I have amply illustrated in previous posts. I am therefore committed to working on the operating assumption and principle that Minoan Linear A tablets (approximately) parallel to their Linear B counterparts (See principle 2. above).
These five principles form the foundation of the first steps that appear to yield relatively convincing results in the decipherment of the 18 words in Minoan Linear A I have tackled so far. Relying on the application of these four principles, either singly or in combination, we can, I believe, make some real headway in the decipherment of roughly 5% to 10 % of the terms on the Linear A tablets. The greater the number of these principles entering into the equation for the decipherment of any Minoan word in particular, the greater are our chances of “getting it right”, so to speak. This is a very good start.
Warning! Caveat: yet even the application of these 5 principles, singly or in tandem (and the more we can apply, the better) cannot guarantee that at least some of our “translations” are incorrect or even way off the mark, because some of them are bound to be just that. I have already discovered that my initial translation of kaudeta on Linear A tablets HT 13 and HT 31 is probably off-base. Time to return to the drawing board.
On the other hand, at least to date, it is virtually impossible to decipher any Linear A words on any tablet to which any or all of the aforementioned principles cannot be safely applied. This leaves hundreds of Minoan terms virtually beyond our reach. In other words, tablets on which Minoan vocabulary appears, but without any reference or link to the 4 principles mentioned above remain a sealed mystery. But that does not trouble me in the least.